RECAP & REVIEW: Doctor Who – ‘Oxygen’ (Series 10, Episode 5)

So what happened?

After an argument with Nardole over leaving The Vault unprotected again, Twelve and Bill drag him along to a futuristic space station that’s used to mine for things in Deep Space, and which has just sent him a distress signal. Straight away, the seemingly abandoned station detects the oxygen the TARDIS is throwing out to allow them to breathe freely, and jettisons it, forcing the trio to don the spare spacesuits, which have a limited amount of oxygen and charge the wearer for every breath they take. Making their way through the station, they discover a dead man wearing one of the ‘smartsuits’, and after his suit attempts to attack them seemingly of it’s own accord, The Doctor neutralises the threat with his sonic screwdriver. Unfortunately, it’s damaged in the process, and when other zombie-esque members of the crew stalk them down, the three of them are forced to seek refuge with the remaining, live members of the crew. There they’re told that whoever programmed the suits has instructed them to ‘deactivate their organic components’, effectively zombie-fying the wearer with an electrical charge that can be passed on through touch.

Bill Ivan ep 5 DW
Ivan (Kieran Bew) trying to fix Bill’s (Pearl Mackie) suit.

Once Bill’s glitchy suit has been temporarily fixed by Ivan, one of the survivors, and she tries to exonerate herself of accusations of casual racism by Dahh-Ren, they all find themselves under attack again when the increasingly intelligent suits manage to override the locks. Hatching a plan to move over to a part of the station that hasn’t yet been completed, and therefore won’t register on the maps the suits are using, the group are about to embark on a space walk when Bill’s helmet won’t lock properly. Horrified that she’s about to be exposed to the vacuum of Space, Twelve instructs her not to breathe in, otherwise her lungs will explode, and when she’s passes out, he gives her his own helmet and guides her to safety. When she wakes up, his companion realises there have been consequences though. Although he’s managed to survive the Space walk, a prolonged lack of oxygen and the pressures put on his body have rendered him blind.

Once again the computer figures out where they are, and tries to get the survivors. As they attempt to flee once more, Bill’s suit malfunctions and her gravity boots glue her to the floor. Realising that there’s nothing else to be done, in spite of protests from Nardole, The Doctor leaves her behind, quickly explaining that she won’t be killed. She is quickly electrocuted, however, and joins the large group of zombies trying to get to the survivors, who’ve now fled to the control room. Once inside, Twelve asks to be taken to a computer, and taps away regardless of his newly acquired blindness, explaining to those with him that the deaths have been caused as a result of a faulty algorithm that aims to extinguish human life, because it uses up too much oxygen and is bad for profits. Duping the others into believing that the only way they can combat this kind of rampant capitalism is by having a ‘good death’, when he hacks the system and sets the station to self-destruct if they should die his tinkering actually causes the suits to give them their spare oxygen, because losing the station would be far too costly. Having known all along that her suit didn’t have enough charge to lethally shock her, The Doctor then revives Bill.

Twelve ep 5 DW
Twelve (Peter Capaldi) revealing he’s still blind to Nardole.

Afterwards The Doctor reclaims the TARDIS, and drops off the survivors at the Headquarters of the company that nearly cost them their lives, revealing to Bill and Nardole that there’s a successful rebellion six months later that puts an end to the society that values profit over human life. His assistant appears to restore his eyesight, but after Twelve’s newest companion leaves his office at the University, Twelve divulges that he still can’t see anything at all.

Monster of the Week

Marieke: Space zombiesss…. Although, eventually they weren’t the scariest part. They were collateral damage when the suits started destroying people by controlling their movements, and their air supplies. Save your breath and don’t get scared, because you’ll run out of oxygen, which you have to pay for. The enemy was man again, but Capitalism was the ultimate villain. Who is clearly veering into social commentary territory this series. You could even say people are zombies to capitalism, and eventually will have to pay for what you need the most. Let’s hope certain governments are too busy with their own problems to watch this…

Danielle: I guess you could say that Headquarters were the baddies here. Faceless suits sending people out into Space, knowing full well their equipment is both unethical and dangerous, all for the sake of increased profit. At least we know they went out of business a few months down the line after the Revolution, eh?

Dead drew member ep 5 DW
A dead crew member being controlled entirely by his spacesuit.
Creep Factor

Marieke: A distress call from a space base. When our trio arrives, it is empty. Then there are suits which turn against them. There are a few survivors, and there are GPS zombies. It’s an absolutely classic horror set up and, what’s more, it works. With every step the situation gets worse, to the point where Bill has to ‘die’ and the Doctor becomes blind. There is hardly a quiet moment to catch your breath, even though for the audience that is still free to do…

Danielle: There is something completely terrifying about the most basic of human needs being restricted, isn’t there? Be it because of rampant capitalism, or the pressures of the vacuum of Space drawing the air out of your lungs. Makes you want to inhale sharply, doesn’t it? People being co-opted by their ‘smartsuits’ is also pretty damn horrific. At what point does technology becoming increasingly autonomous result in an end to our freedoms, and even our right to exist?


Marieke: It starts with a ‘v’ and ends with ‘ault’. Still. But we have an added problem now. Nardole did not manage to fix The Doctor’s eyes for some odd reason. He even has spare eyes lying around, so why they don’t work is a mystery. That will complicate adventures in the next episode, no doubt. Is The Doctor’s body perhaps already giving up as it approaches regeneration? Are his eyes the ‘likeliest’ body parts to stop working first? Or is there another reason? We’ll stay tuned. Maybe there’s an ophthalmologist in the vault? That would be convenient…

Danielle: Nardole is genuinely concerned about leaving that vault unmanned, isn’t he? He was particularly worried about The Doctor coming back injured, and now his worst fears have been realised. That obviously still points us to the mystery of who’s inside the makeshift cell that terrifies him so much. With Missy popping up in the trailer for the next episode, I think we can make educated guesses. Another puzzling thing is why Twelve didn’t reveal to Bill that he still couldn’t see. Was it really simply to stop her from feeling guilty?

Familiar Face
Kieran Bew ep 5 DW
Kieran Bew as Ivan.

Playing Ivan here, Kieran Bew is perhaps best known for his roles in Da Vinci’s Demons and Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands.

Twelve and his Companion(s)

Marieke: We finally got the trio we were promised. In an episode where death chased our protagonists, be it in the form of the living dead, or a lack of oxygen, it was Nardole who, as I expected, provided some comic relief. It was necessary, because it was incredibly grim. There did not seem to be any safe spaces, and the one that existed, because it wasn’t on the map, was accidentally given away to the zombies. Bill had to do more than just learn a lesson this time, although she did around Dahh-Ren which offered up an amusing yet serious conversation about experiencing different types of racism. This time Bill also had to die. Not really die, but get put into a coma which resembled death. Nevertheless Bill did not go without calling out for her mother, experiencing real fear and a true sense of her life slipping away. The stakes where upped this episode, because making it out alive came at a price: the loss of the Doctor’s eyesight. Nardole could not fix it, which makes you question his assistant’s abilities as well as The Doctor’s body. Since Nardole is also able to fly the TARDIS, I am giving him the benefit of the doubt here. It is possible he will have to function as the Doctor’s eyes in the next episode, although Twelve seemed to be moving around okay, sporting those sunglasses again. But not telling Bill will have consequences for their relationship. She already trusted him, but having to die because of the malfunctioning suit raised the level of their trust. After all, he abandoned her with the promise he would bring her back from the death, which he did. We will have to see if this changed something for them, positively or negatively.

Danielle: Bill and Twelve’s relationship really deepened here. It’s one thing to go off on jolly adventures with your mad and baffling Professor. It’s another thing entirely when he exposes himself to the vacuum of Space to save your life, and comes away blind. With that in mind, it’s hard to imagine early Twelve allowing Bill to embrace him in the way she did both times after he saved her in this episode. Clara may have opened him up emotionally, but there’s something inherently natural about this duo’s interactions and their ease with one another that adds fuel to the fire that they may be related. I liked the fact Nardole got in on the action this time too. His main function may well be to remind The Doctor of his duties on Earth and to provide the comic relief, but the rapport he’s built with Bill adds a further dimension to proceedings as well.

Nardole Twelve Bill ep 5 DW
Nardole (Matt Lucas), The Doctor and Bill going in for a group hug after she’s been revived.
The Verdict?

Marieke: A tense episode with high stakes, it followed a proper horror scenario and even delivered a not entirely happy ending. We have arrived at a point where The Doctor is not able to handle everything with a whisk of the sonic screwdriver. He even loses it. Is Twelve becoming less capable than he was before? His anticipated regeneration raises even more questions than if had we not known about it. This adds to the speculation, but it could also lead us to red herring land. At this time the added questions about pictures and eyesight are more fun than the whole vault mess, which is dragging on a bit for me. All in all, this was a steady Who episode situated in space, with added running through the corridors, when their suits let them of course. I am enjoying the return of the more overt criticism of society, which is an important part of science fiction. It has almost erased my memories of the abysmal ‘Kill the Moon’ from an earlier series. I saw parts of a repeat of the episode the other day. The difference with the current series is enormous. Twelve desperately needed a companion to teach and explain his world to, rather than an impossible girl who knew it all. Even though I dare not use the word refreshing again, it is exactly what this series is. A joy to watch, and episodes to look forward too. Although, that regeneration…

Danielle: I really enjoyed the intensity of this episode, and the fact that there were finally some real stakes. Up until now, The Doctor has managed to undo almost all of the bad each weekly threat has tried to inflict on their victims. That’s definitely not the case in ‘Oxygen’ as he directly bore the brunt of an out of control, futuristic society where life is secondary to profit. You’ve got to wonder what the consequences of his blindness will be as well. How can he possibly protect humanity from whoever’s in that Vault when he can’t actually see them? It seems like the hubris that provoked him to disregard the promise he made not to leave Earth and protect the vault, may have left his nemesis an open goal now he can’t see. Marieke could well be onto something when she mentioned how important photographs seem to be this series. What happens when Twelve can no longer look at the visible reminders of his past, and regard those who are now departed, but had a huge impact on who he is? At what point does his ability to step into the future without thinking about the past become a liability? The more I think about it, the more I believe The Doctor living too long increases his chances of turning to the ‘Dark Side’. Losing sight of things may be a metaphor. Either way, there’s lots to think about here.

My solitary, minuscule grumble with the episode was that hammy reveal at the very end. It’s a shame really because Capaldi has been pretty close to perfect in his delivery so far in Series 10. That just felt off. I can live with it though and, oh boy, am I excited for ‘Extremis’!

And Finally…
  • Who knew we would find part of the Blue Man Group in space? (M)
  • Is there something special about Bill’s mum? Only present through one photograph, she has already been on screen a few times. There’s got to be something in all pictures though… (M)
  • Those spacesuits may have been deadly, but they looked brilliant. Props to the costume designers on the show, who never get enough credit. (D)
  • I’m starting to have this really, really weird notion that it’s a very, very old version of Twelve inside that vault. I’m probably wrong, but… (D)


Our Fezzy Score: rsz_fuzzy_fezrsz_fuzzy_fezrsz_fuzzy_fezrsz_tiny_fez

So what did you think to the episode? Let us know in the comments… 


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